Less than a month before school starts again. Ugh. It’s not like I don’t want to go back to school (because I do), but I also want to lie around and do nothing for a little bit longer. Eat some tacos. Eat a few more Rocky Road ice cream cones from Rite-Aid so I have an excuse to talk to the really cool guy there who has a full sleeve but has to cover it up because apparently Rite-Aid keeps it classy. Not like he’s asked me for my number but, hey, at least I can say he’s given me something sweet.
Gabi Hernandez, the main character in this novel by Isabel Quintero, is starting her senior year in high school. It proves to be an eventful year, and she chronicles it all in her diary, which forms the novel. School hasn’t even started when her best friend, Cindy, discovers that she’s pregnant. Her other best friend, Sebastian, comes out to his family and is kicked out. Her father is addicted to meth. And Gabi gets her first boyfriend … and her second … . And she discovers, through this diary and her poetry class, that she has a gift for telling true, honest stories about her life.
Gabi’s voice, both self-deprecating and effervescent with confidence, is a large part of what makes this book fun to read. She deals with some difficult situations, and she’s sometimes in terrible pain, but her diary is a place where she works through it and finds a way to move forward.
Like many teens, Gabi is figuring out who she is, but every story of self-discovery is a little bit different. For Gabi, she has to navigate her Mexican-American heritage and everything she loves about it, her feelings about her fair skin making her look too white, and the fact that her dreams may eventually take her away from her family. She hears her mother’s messages about being a “good girl,” but she chooses to define that in her own way.
A lot of her thoughts focus on the standards society places on women. There’s the fact that her mother is more focused on her sexual purity than on her younger brother’s. And then there’s her weight, which her mother frets about to the point that Gabi has taken to stashing snacks in her room so she doesn’t get any grief. In both cases, Gabi figures out how to live a life that pleases her without stressing out her mother too much.
A lot of the book is about figuring out how to balance different expectations, and those include Gabi’s expectations for herself. It’s a joy to spend time with her as she works these questions out.